Rangers spread thin for Georgia's busiest hunting day - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Rangers spread thin for Georgia's busiest hunting day

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By Jim Wallace - bio | email

October 15, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Saturday is the biggest hunting day of the year in Georgia, the first day of firearm deer hunting season.

Department of Natural Resources officials predict between 200,000 to 300,000 hunters will be in the fields and woods Saturday.

But the number of conservation rangers who will be there enforcing Georgia laws is very small, rangers worry that further state budget cuts will make their number even fewer.

They used to be called Game Wardens, but now Ben Roberts is known as a Conservation Ranger for the Department of Natural Resources. And with the modern firearms portion of deer season opening Saturday, he's busy patrolling, checking deer stands, watching for baited fields, and making sure hunters have licenses and are wearing orange vests.

Roberts said "That's a big safety concern. That's not a bullet proof vest, but it usually stops someone sending a bullet your way."

But there are very few rangers to make sure the hundreds of thousands of hunters with high powered rifles in Georgia fields this weekend go home safely. In the Southwest Georgia region, there are 29 people in the office, to cover 29 counties.

 Roberts said, "Each ranger has one county. I patrol Dougherty County. We have Calhoun County next to me, that nobody's in. So we'll go over there and help with it."

The number of rangers has shrunk to alarmingly thin ranks.

Captain Jeff Swift said, "We've been depleted by a half dozen positions over the last 8 years, but we'll, with everyone working, be able to handle all the complaints and calls for service we will receive."

It's not only hunting. Conservation rangers handle all state environmental laws, like copper wire burning or illegal dumping. Expected state budget reductions will force the D.N.R. to cut between six to ten percent of their budget, and that could mean even fewer rangers.

Swift said, "We would be impacted severely at different times of the year. When boating season was in full swing. Also when we have natural disasters, tornadoes, hurricanes."

But for now, one ranger like Ben Roberts is busy patrolling one or two counties, ready for the busiest hunting day of the year in Georgia.

Georgia firearm deer season in the Southern Zone runs from October 18th to January 15th.